There are so many neat things about Fox Searchlight’s “The Descendants” you may want to stop reading this, grab a pen and paper, and take notes. Ready? First of all, besides co-writing and co-producing, it’s Alexander Payne’s first directorial fling in five years since directing and winning Best Original Screenplay with his partner, Jim Taylor, for “Sideways”. In case you’ve forgotten, Payne also gave us “About Schmidt” and “Election”.
Secondly, this touching comedy-drama, not unlike “Win-Win” and “Terms of Endearment”, waxes deliciously sacrilegious as it shines a light on the dark side of a family coming apart at the seams. It isn’t afraid to be raw and funny and sad, frequently at the same time.
Thirdly, it stars George Clooney as a Haole/Hawaiian living in Honolulu. Even though he plays a schlub (his words, not mine) in a Hawaiian shirt, he is a gorgeous schlub in gorgeous scenery underscored with traditional Hawaiian music.
The story, based on the debut novel by Kaui Hart Hemmings, nibbles around the edges of Hawaiian history. Clooney plays Matt King, a man who works so hard as a real estate lawyer and trustee for his extended family’s land trust, he’s distanced himself from his wife and kids. He acknowledges his second-string status upfront, calling himself “…the backup parent”. When his wife goes into a coma after a boating accident, Clooney discovers she’s been having an affair. He’s forced to come to terms with their mess of a marriage and his unruly, foul-mouthed ten and seventeen-year-old daughters. Both young actors do an amazing job, but keep your eyes on the older one, played by a break-out star-to-be, Shailene Woodley, in her big-screen debut. This girl has STAR written all over her and is a reflection on what Payne does best. He casts well and lets his actors do what he hired them to do.
It’s true I have always lusted for George and I admit to saying that he’s worked his charm, good looks, worldly compassion, and innate sense of irony into superstar status. I have never said it was because of his acting chops – until now.
In a film that could have slipped into schmaltz in the wrong hands, directed by and starring men who have never fathered children, I wondered if George could step out of his glib suit and show us what’s inside when real caca hits the family fan. The buzz is Mr. Clooney will be nominated for an Academy Award. The truth is this time he really deserves the nod. He keeps a tight lid on his emotional pressure cooker most of the film, but when he lets it blow and steam and drip — so do you!
Fun factoid: actor Matthew Lillard, who plays the man having an affair with George’s screen wife, told us this was the ROLE OF A LIFETIME because he got the girl away from George Clooney. He’s so ecstatic, he’s having it tattooed on his body and issuing a line of t-shirts! (: “The Descendants” will be in theatres November 18th.